Back in 2013, Jamie Menhall didn’t know much about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). That began to change when his father Nasser announced his plans to open ASD treatment centers in the Middle East. At first, Jamie simply wanted to help out his dad, and set out to learn as much as he could about the disorder. He quickly discovered that his passion for helping those struggling with ASD ran much deeper than father-son bonding.
When Jamie first had the opportunity to volunteer as a peer mentor for kids with ASD at Turtle Duck Learning, he discovered that he had unusual levels of empathy for their circumstances. He learned that making a connection with someone whose brain worked much differently required patience, care, and at times, knowing exactly which kind of cupcake to bring. Jamie began to realize that ASD was not merely a disorder, but a different way of being in the world. Despite still being in middle school, he wanted to explore what more he could do to improve the lives of those with ASD and he maintained close contact with his mentees.
In the summer of 2015, Jamie went to Dubai to formally train in the Stepping Stones Center co-founded by his father. At only 15 years old, Jamie earned top marks in his Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) training and passed the certification examinations. In his interactions with the children, he continued to find creative ways to connect with them. One small boy said one of his first words, an enthusiastic “hi,” to Jamie. Another learned how to scoop rice out of a bowl after hours of patient practice with Jamie. Seeking to share his experiences with the world, Jamie wrote about his summer in the clinic for major Dubai-based magazine First Avenue and the blog of renowned clinician Dr. Gene Beresin.
In his days in the clinic, he observed that time in the game room to play games such as Autcraft (Minecraft for anyone in the spectrum and their families) was an effective incentive for the children. He also noted that minor modifications of the game to encourage collaboration greatly helped the children to work with each other. He saw that there was great potential in using gaming to help promote social and other skills that were lacking in these children.
Upon returning from Dubai, Jamie began to investigate how he could make his passion for enriching the lives of ASD persons into something sustainable and impactful. Through discussions with experts and consideration of his own experiences, Jamie is more than ever convinced that touchscreen technology was one of the most promising frontiers for improving the daily lives of those with ASD. Under the tutelage of Dr. Leslie Fang, Jamie envisioned GOFAR: Game On For Autism Research. He met with researchers at MIT and clinicians at the MGH Lurie Center to begin to understand how he could best direct his efforts.
With a plan focused on the use of technology and gaming to promote interactive skills, Jamie began to fundraise. To date, GOFAR has raised significant amount of money from private individuals, non-profit donors such as the Endicott Family Foundation, and corporate sponsors such as the Herb Chambers Automotive Family.
GOFAR grew directly out of Jamie’s experiences, and for that reason, it will focus not on finding a “cure” for ASD, but on empathetically seeking ways to make living with ASD easier and more fulfilling. The foundation is currently in talks with Boston Children’s Hospital and others as it explores the best way to deploy both its funds and Jamie’s vision. Whatever the future may hold, GOFAR will always reflect the values of its founder: Helping to improve lives through empathy and a desire to connect.
Peer support for high-functioning teenager with ASD. See letter from Turtle Duck Learning for details. PDF attached.
started 9th grade in a new (high) school and got thinking about community service opportunities – interested in helping kids, “particularly those who are so unlucky that they are unable to help themselves”.
Towards the end of the internship, Jamie was “discovered” by an editor of First Avenue Magazine while working at Stepping Stones. During the interview, he was invited to write an article for the magazine to be considered for publication.
Asked for a volunteer internship opportunity at Stepping Stones Center in Dubai (because, unlike the United States, there is no minimum age requirement for shadowing therapists and taking exams). Fulfilled Applied Behavior Analysis ABA training. See letter from Stepping Stones Center and Relais Transcript for details. PDF attached.
Convinced Dr. Leslie Fang to allow him to try to form a non-profit LLC (Game On For Autism Research GOFAR LLC) under his existing 501(C)3 Foundation. Submitted application for Certificate of Organization in Massachusetts.
GOFAR LLC – application Approved on Sept 7, 2016 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Jamie is the official “Founder” but not old enough to be a legal Trustee, so Dr. Fang and I became the two legal trustees of GOFAR.
Submitted article to First Avenue Magazine, Dubai. Approved for publication in January 2017, the Gigi Hadid issue. (P.78-80)
Invited by Dr. Beresin, Director of the MGH Clay Center to publish on the Clay Center website.
Continuously fundraising for GOFAR…
Mission: to explore what technology can do for the ASD population:
Game On For Autism Research LLC (GOFAR Foundation) is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the lives of children with autism and their families by integrating innovative technology into the therapy of autism. Our intent is to enhance the utilization of a broad range of softwares, mobile applications and games to facilitate communication, education, and social skills to empower those with autism spectrum disorders. At Game On For Autism Research, we believe that every child canGOFAR. We are convinced that technology has a central role to play in helping children with autism reach their highest potential.
Studied/Researched what technology can do for the ASD population:
Meetings with the MGH Lurie Center, BU CARE Center, MIT CSAIL, MIT Media Labs… More likely than not supporting the GAMES project at the Boston Children’s Hospital.
First corporate sponsor!